Amazon to Miami ‘ain’t Gonna Happen’ Because Transit is so Bad, County Chairman Says

November 21, 2017

As Miami-Dade waits to hear if it made the short list of contenders for Amazon’s second headquarters, the county’s senior lawmaker gave a blunt thumbs down to the prospects Tuesday over transit woes. “It ain’t gonna happen,” said Esteban “Steve” Bovo, chairman of the County Commission. “We’re not equipped for it.”

“We’re not equipped to draw 50,000 new jobs in here,” Bovo told fellow commissioners during a debate on cutting bus routes to close budget gaps in the county’s transit system, “because we don’t have the ability to let those people move around in our community.”

It was a brief comment in a larger discussion of the county’s inability to expand transit options for residents. But Bovo’s remarks also meshed with a broader theory that transportation represents a notable liability for a county that can offer Amazon diversity, vacation-style weather and the kind of international gateway that might appeal to a company seeking to expand its reach in Latin America.

The unfortunate and tough reality of @MiamiDadeCounty: Inadequate Transit Networks – limiting the social & economic mobility of ALL Miami residents. 

An October analysis by Moody’s ranked Miami-Dade No. 7 among Amazon contenders, with relatively high marks for the Miami business climate and quality of life. But it gave the county low scores for transportation, with only Atlanta faring worse on that criteria. The analysis wasn’t designed to handicap which city would win Amazon’s “HQ2” but only to show which contenders fared best on paper.

“Miami-Dade offers many advantages in its bid to be selected for Amazon’s second headquarters. Amazon is a logistics behemoth, and Miami is a leading distribution center,” Moody’s analyst, Kwame Donaldson, wrote. But he said strained budgets and an opposition to “corporate welfare” likely mean Amazon won’t get the kind of giveaways in Miami-Dade that other jurisdictions are eager to offer.

“And though Miami offers Florida’s most extensive public transportation system,” Donaldson wrote, “commuter and metro rail service lags behind the cities in the Northeast Corridor.”

Miami-Dade, which applied as part of a regional effort with Palm Beach and Broward, hasn’t released its Amazon proposal. The Beacon Council, the county’s economic-development agency, said in a summary that the application touted future plans for transit, including the for-profit Brightline railway running between Miami and West Palm Beach that’s set to open in the coming months and Miami-Dade’s own unfunded “SMART” plan that seeks to expand transit options in six of the county’s busiest commuting corridors.

Maria Teresa Garcia, communications manager for the Beacon Council, said Miami-Dade would have time to ramp up for an Amazon arrival.

“It’s important to understand that there isn’t going to be 50,000 jobs in the first year,” she said. “This is going to be in phases.” As a result, Miami-Dade’s transit ambitions could be appealing to Amazon as it looks to the future. “There are lot of good things in the pipeline,” she said.

Miami-Dade this year cut Metrorail hours and extended waits for trains as it combats shortfalls in the sales tax dedicated to transit subsidies and a decline in transit riders. Transit systems across the country are suffering from ridership declines, which are blamed on lower gas prices, a stronger job market, and the relatively recent entry of Uber and Lyft into the transportation marketplace.

In Miami-Dade, Mayor Carlos Gimenez is pushing high-tech buses as an affordable alternative to expanding Metrorail, which he sees being made obsolete by the rise of autonomous vehicles. Bovo has advocated for a costly rail expansion, insisting the public won’t settle for a bus option.

On Tuesday, Bovo joined commissioners in approving the cuts in the county’s bus system, including the elimination of Bus No. 249 in Coconut Grove and Bus. No. 70 in South Dade. Transit administrators describe the routes as underused, though about 2,200 people ride them on an average weekday. Other buses and trolleys already overlap with those routes, so transit administrators insist the changes shouldn’t bring too much disruption to passengers.

“It’s frustrating we are in this surgical mode of trying to make a system work,” Bovo said. “This is what we’re going to be experiencing going forward unless we are bold in what we want to do and rethink everything we do in transportation.”

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